Friday, February 29, 2008

Back to the Car and up the Mountain!

Mary Ann at the top of Mt. Victoria

Beach & Oriental Parade

Well, it has been a couple of days since we have driven our little Mazda anywhere. It must have been feeling neglected in our parking garage. The windows of our apartment have the view of Mount Victoria. We have been told that it is a must event to go up to the Mt. Victoria Lookout. There is a very nice vertical trail or you can drive there. Hmmm, which option should we take?

We drove out of downtown on the harbor drive, which is called the Oriental Parade. The road, paralleled by a well used pedestrian and bike path, looks north over the harbor and downtown Wellington. The “Parade” is also the long way to drive to the airport. The short way is through a tunnel under Mount Victoria. We covered the highway all the way past the airport and on to the very south end of the island. There are lots of beach cabins along the road which look like weekend getaways for Wellington residents.

On the way back we found the backside curvy road to the Lookout. Darn, we must have been on the wrong side to take the trail. The road goes up, up and more up, but when you get there it is truly a spectacular view in all directions. The photos with this posting give you an idea of just how beautiful this city is. Now let’s see…water, mountains, sun, beautiful waterfront, and gorgeous view points on each side of the city…makes the capital city a very incredible place and one you have to visit sometime.

Now back at the ranch, oops I mean the apartment, an amazing event happened. Mary Ann had done the laundry this morning and our equipment does not seem to dry shirts without wrinkles. She actually found and recognized an ironing board and iron. Fortunately, she has all my shirts ironed before she reads this. She does on occasion retaliate!

Quirky Living Note: There is a free weekly current events newspaper called the Capital Times. A couple of pages highlight the social scene with photos. Several of the photos showed well dressed ladies and their accompanying “suits.” The caption is priceless: Lawyers, academics, judges, and politicians gathered for a chinwag and a glass of bubbly at Parliament….

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Just One Big Event a Day

Wellington waterfront
The Te Papa National Museum

Or maybe you could slip in two. When you settle down in a new location for an extended period of time you don’t want to experience all the local sites and events all at once. You want to space it out. I don’t think I have mentioned that Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and geographically it is at the lower end of the north island. Once upon a time Auckland was the capital, but it was moved so there was a more central location for the Kiwi’s (there is that word again). As the capital it is center stage for all the big national stuff. You know like the Blackcap’s Cricket team. Oh yea! I really do have to learn how the game is played and scored so I can understand the sporting news. The real big deal here is the Te Papa National Museum, which was our primary event of the day.

The Te Papa is a huge, architecturally imposing (translate as controversial) building on the waterfront. It has a wonderful perk in that it is free, although the map and guide book is $3. On this first visit we spent about two hours checking out the geologic history of the islands, the arrival of the natives and the pakeha (Europeans), and the culture of the Maori. We lasted until the feet, back and eyes could take no more. We know we must return and that the guide books are right in advising you can’t do it in one day. There was just too much to absorb. In order to keep your education moving along 25% of the land mass of the islands is dedicated to national parks. This might indicate how rugged many parts of the country are.

The other event of the day was my attending another Rotary meeting. I don’t think I am so really dedicated, but it is an interesting way to meet the locals. All service clubs have there own culture and design and this club was quite a contrast to the one in Auckland. I imagined it would be a large club as it met in a restaurant on the 17th floor of one of the best Wellington hotels on Lambton Quay. However, I think the club is struggling with membership. They have about 45 members, and with the two guests (the other one was a lady from Pitlochery, Scotland) the total attendance was 14 including the program presenter.

There were some very formal gentlemen with their double breasted blazers and gray hair. One was a Queens Counsel (the top of the legal hierarchy) and one a former mayor of Wellington. From these programs however, I am learning a lot about subjects I might not otherwise investigate. The speaker was John Gilberthorpe, the Chief Executive of the Wellington Museum Trust. This agency is part of the City government and operates all the city museums such as the Wellington Sea & City, the Cable Car Museum, and a couple of Art galleries. They have an extensive children’s outreach education program. The Te Papa however is not on his watch, as it is a national museum. For more information go to

Our apartment is just a block off Cuba Street which has a very eclectic selection of restaurants, including Cuban food. We ate at Ernesto’s, named after Che Guevara. In fact Che’s large photo was in my direct view. We thought a Cuban event was very timely in light of the presidential change in Cuba.

Quirky Living Note: You often find when traveling, some quirk which is unique to the country. Here I have noticed, both in Auckland and Wellington, that they have this thing about tearing up the brick sidewalks. The downtown areas of both cities have sidewalks which are very close fitting bricks and whole blocks have had the bricks removed and they are patiently replacing them. I think they must have a very strong bricklayers union in New Zealand.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wellington - Brilliant

Typical tourist blocking the City view from the Botanical Gardens Viewpoint

Wellington Harbor from the Cable Car

Now Brilliant is sort of a Brit, Aussie, and Kiwi word, but it fits Wellington today. Bright sunshine and just a light breeze so we did not get too warm on our four hour walk around the city. It is amazing how much better everything looks when it is not raining. Our apartment is just a block from Cuba Street which is a funky pedestrian street heading towards the waterfront. Well, because of Wellington being a harbor surrounded by hills, just about every street heads for the bay.

To get all the best maps and brochures we landed at the Information Site in the Civic Center area. I of course, harassed the nice ladies with questions that they could not answer without a telephone call or two. I was still trying to tack down the details of the sheep shearing in Masterton later this week, as my internet searches were still a bit vague. Then we headed down through the business district and the upscale shopping looking for the cable car station. The cable car (nice senior rate!) takes you up the mountain, past Victoria University to the botanical gardens and observatory. There were great views of the harbor and city, along with an interesting walk through parts of the garden. Mary Ann was in seventh heaven with the photo taking, assuming the sun would never shine again.

Back on the flat we wandered up to the railway station with the plan of figuring out how to catch a train to Masterton. Seems straight forward but we will see about that on Friday. The Station is on the north end of the waterfront and there is a fine pedestrian walkway all along the harbor to the Te Papa National Museum. We found a nice café on the walk with the name of Latitude 41. Now do you suppose latitude 41 crosses this area? After all this forced marching a sit down lunch felt really great. Near the café was a place to rent sea going Kayaks, but we passed on that today, and maybe will pass on it tomorrow also.

We finished the walk with exploring the civic center area, thought about visiting the mayor in the gorgeous town hall, but decided she was probably busy on a Monday. Back at the apartment it was definitely time for the traditional New Zealand siesta, and a chance to read all those brochures I picked up at the visitor center.

Quirky Living Note: I know I mentioned taxi cabs in one of the Auckland articles. However another taxi trend is cropping up in both Auckland and Wellington. It is the Corporate Cab. Now this is a upscale car, such as a Mercedes or Lincoln or something expensive, which I presume has been rented by a business corporation to move their important execs around. However, it takes a little away from the cache when there is a lighted sign on the roof, like a cab, but which says “Corporate.”

Monday, February 25, 2008

What a Small World

Sunrise in Napier

The drive from Napier to Wellington is about 5 hours through magnificent farming and grazing country. The farms with all their sheep and cows seem to be very prosperous. With my luck as a deer slayer, I noticed a lost sheep wandering on the verge of the highway. I did miss it. They don’t seem to attack like deer! The country seems very much like central northern California until you cross a very rugged windy pass over the mountains into Wellington. Traffic was held up for a while for a motorcycle accident. Obviously taking the curves too fast!

About three hours into the drive, it was time for our usual cappuccino mid morning stop. We were in Masterton, the home of the World Championship Sheep Shearing Festival. We didn’t see any obvious coffee place and got worried we would be out of town without the required rest stop. At the south end of town there was a little shopping village called Kuripuni Village and we noticed the “The Village Grinder.” No stinking Starbuck’s for us – we go with the natives.

The very welcoming cashier (I think the two ladies were responsible for the baristering-hmm a new word) asked us the opening gambit of where we were from. We are usually pretty vague to avoid being classified with the “other Washington”, so we just say near Seattle. Richard introduced his wife Annie and advised us they had previously lived on Whidbey Island operating an organic market garden. Richard was from the Masterton (Wairarapa region) area so he was returning home after 25 years, but Annie was from Fairbanks, Alaska.

Well, that let us get into more specifics about where we were from and they had enjoyed Lake Chelan in their Washington days. Richard asked if I knew a lawyer in Wenatchee by the name of Charles Steinberg. Of course I know Charles. He was an old acquaintance of Richard and Annie. As I have the Chelan County Bar Association member’s information on my thumb drive, I have sent off an email to Charles and hopefully they will be able to renew their friendship. We bought some of their coffee and it is excellent as we had some this morning. When we left Richard and Annie Bibby encouraged us to return next weekend for the Sheep Shearing Championships. We may very likely do that. Sooo-if you are ever in Masterton, stop into The Village Grinder for a great home town chat and find out what a small world it really is.

Quirky Driving Note: As we came to an infrequent stop light on the way into Wellington, there was a large sign that said – Stop on the red, end of bloody story.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Rotorua and Napier

Inner Harbor of Napier from Bluff

Geysers at Te Puia

Maori Cultural Program

As our week in Auckland came to a close, we selected for our final dinner a Chinese Restaurant near our hotel that we frequently walked by. We knew it was probably good as it always seemed busy with Chinese eaters. That seemed like a good sign. We selected one of the usual Chinese options, the banquet dinner for two. Now why do the Chinese restaurants market meals like this? You always get too much to eat and it always seems that it is a bargain compared to selecting individual dishes. We were not disappointed. It was one of the best Chinese dinners we have had in a long time and for the equivalent of about $20 each. Too bad we couldn’t take home the little to-go boxes. We could have eaten for three more days.

It seems we left the north of the Island in the nick of the time, as this weekend they have been having hurricane force winds and rain. We had some rain when we arrived in Rotorua, but really just on and off light showers, the first rain we have had in New Zealand. Rotorua is the Yellowstone of New Zealand featuring mineral waters, mud pots, a large lake and geysers. The city is quite a tourist draw and has a huge number of hotel rooms for the size of the town. You sort of have to dodge the tourist buses wherever you go. The area is also a center for Maori native culture. We tried to combine it all in one stop by going to Te Puia, which was a Maori village, museums, native crafts, and a thermal valley. Although pricey we spent about three hours there and it turned out to be a good buy. Fascinating thermal activity, nature walk, active geyser, and a 45 minute Maori cultural show in the meeting house filled up our afternoon. Rotorua has an extensive lakeside park system and some very elegant Tudor municipal buildings and museums. Being modest we however did skip the communal thermal baths. I know, I know, we just have no spirit. We likewise also skipped the jet boats, the luge, the caves, the bungy jumps, the prawn park, river rafting, hobbiton movie set and helicopter rides. If you did everything tourist and adventure related in Rotorua you could go through a lot of money. Maybe later!

On Saturday we were off to Napier on the Pacific coast through mountainous forestry country. The farther south we go the more sheep we see, thus living up to New Zealand’s reputation. Napier is an interesting town with a deep water container port and city center built in an art deco motif. In 1931 the city suffered a devastating earthquake, and the reconstruction was made in a 1920-1930’s art deco design. Very attractive and it is a vibrant central business district. We are staying in a six story hotel right on the Hawke’s Bay beach over looking the Pacific and I hope it was built to modern earthquake standards. Today it has been mostly sunny but windy and there has been some terrific surf on the black beaches. We however, will pass on the water sports. They have been setting up an event along the beach and we have been told it is called the “long lunch” where you eat, and eat, and get pissed. Now I wonder what they will do there.

Quirky Living Bathroom Note: When I see something I don’t understand I tend to ask, often to Mary Ann’s embarrassment. Tonight at dinner I saw a sign that said “Dunnies”, so naturally I asked the bartender what it meant. I found out that it refers to the restrooms, going back to what New Zealand outhouses were called. As a logical extension the men’s was called “Blokes” and the women’s was the “Sheila’s.” At lunch at the Hogs Breath Pub they were the “Boars” and the “Sows.”

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Exploring the Coromandel Peninsula

The Coromandel is about 125 miles southeast of Auckland. It is a rugged mountainous peninsula pointing towards Auckland with beautiful beaches, twisty roads, and wonderful varied forests and trees. While in New Zealand we have been amazed at the variety of trees, bushes, ferns and palms. It makes you want to know a lot more about botany. As you leave the north-south highway 1 and head towards the base city of Thames, you cross rolling agricultural farming and herding. At Thames, which is the gateway onto the peninsula the wilds begin.

Up the west side there is a wonderful road which winds along the many bays of the Firth of Thames. I thought it was very quaint of them to name one of the bays, the “Small Vehicle Bay.” When we came across a couple more of these, I finally figured out that these were places to pull over and let faster vehicles pass. Language is a wonderful thing. Towards the top of the peninsula is Coromandel Town (}, which is a cute village with crafts, arts, and cafes’. The café’s were featuring their locally grown mussels and oysters, and we enjoyed an excellent lunch at the Pepper Tree Restaurant & Bar. I don’t always agree with the assessments of Frommer, but he did say this was the best food in town and he got it right.

We then crossed through a rugged pass with spectacular views and proceeded down the east side of the peninsula through Whitianga and Pauanui and then back to Auckland. The motorway into Auckland was like driving Interstate 5 in the evening rush. Obviously Auckland is becoming a very big cosmopolitan city.

For our final full day in Auckland, we rode the free bus to the University of Auckland and explored the campus. I have a “thing” about buying logo apparel only when I have actually visited a university, which I love to do. I now have a very nice University of Auckland t-shirt. We then went on the bus to explore Skycity and the Sky Tower. Amongst several hotels there they have a full casino (Don’t they seem to look all the same the world over?) and of course the entry to the Sky Jump, the Sky Walk and the Sky Tower itself. For a fleeting moment we contemplated paying the $25 each to go up in the tower, and then decided once you had been up in Space Needle, the Sears Tower, and Empire State Building you really did not need to do it again.

Because of the good weather in the Southern Hemisphere this time of year, it seems all of the world’s cruise ships have been in port. Previously, I mentioned the Queen Victoria, but yesterday we spotted the Sun Princess, and today at the end of Albert Street was the Queen Elizabeth II on its final voyage before retirement this year. Two other smaller ships of unknown name have also been hanging around.

Quirky Driving Note: As we have been driving the rural roads (now over 1000 kilometers) we have seen a lot of little varmints who have met their maker on the highways. I saw a t-shirt in a souvenir store which explained what kind of animal they were: Possums-New Zealand’s Little Speed Bumps.

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Chance to meet at The Crack of Dawn!


Having joined Rotary in Chelan, when traveling it is a good opportunity to make up meetings, and to meet a lot of men and woman who have similar service interests. Because of a location near our apartment, I selected the Downtown Auckland Rotary which meets at 7:15 a.m. at (ironically) The Auckland Club. This is a very British and posh private club with lots of dark wood and paintings of landscapes and old men. Being the first one there I had a chance to meet a lot of arriving Rotarians.

I sat at the President’s table and chatted with him, the program presenter, the Swedish exchange student, and a private detective Rotarian. There are about 80 members with about 45 attending on this morning. The hot breakfast was 21 NZ$ which is about $17 U.S. The program was a retired engineer from Napier who was on a crusade to reform the justice system and to implement ways to stop the escalating violence in New Zealand. He was a real tough justice guy, which I certainly agreed with. For more information check out The club has three very huge projects in the works, including an Arts Week which raises about a NZ$ 100,000, an end of summer wine tasting evening, and an annual golf tournament. Sounds like home.

For our tourism event of the day, we visited Devonport, located across Auckland harbor. This is a delightful Victorian village reached by a quick 12 minute ferry. We walked the village and enjoyed the ambience. Off the south end of the Devonport peninsula is the location of the America’s Cup course. The views of downtown Auckland from the ferry are spectacular. Most of the ferries, at least from observing the North Island are operated by the Fullers Ferry Company which is running a very huge and efficient operation. They have ferries going everywhere about the islands and appear to be a very successful company. The ticket price was NZ$9 roundtrip to Devonport, which is $7.18 U.S. By the way, if you want to know the exchange value of any currency in the world go to

Quirky Living Note: When walking around Devonport I came across a fascinating business which could become a staple of many governments, if they had an imagination. The business was called “The Department of Doing.” Take a look at their website to learn how out of the box they are:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

In Pursuit of Culture

The new Queen Victoria

The Auckland skyline

A tired shopper!

I am sure you can find culture in places other than in museums, and we are surely in pursuit thereof. However, to start in the traditional manner, we visited the Auckland Art Gallery. It has the decided advantage of being free. Not surprisingly the museum has a huge preference for New Zealand artists, or artists from Great Britain who have immigrated to New Zealand. The museum has a new building and an old building. We have to consider ourselves lucky as the old building is closing at the end of this month for two years of renovation. The galleries are filled with mostly modern New Zealand art, Maori native art, and late 19th century New Zealand portraits and landscapes. In all we recognized only a few artist names, of pieces acquired from the U.S. There were a couple of special photographic exhibitions that were interesting.

To learn more of the down to earth culture, such as getting to know the New Zealanders, we have been talking to the natives. The city has a very nice perk, a free all red bus service that runs around the downtown and goes up to the University of Auckland, leaving every 10 minutes. We made the full circuit and spent the whole time talking with three older gentlemen, who we suspect had been told by their wives to get out of the house and do something. When Mary Ann mentioned that we had visited the Auckland Art Gallery, I seem to have detected a slight rolling of the eyes. The opening inquiry of any conversation is asking where we are from. I have come to the conclusion that the fine residents of Chelan, Washington have a much better picture of world geography than do the New Zealanders. It is a bit hard to explain exactly where we live. I am thinking about carrying a world map with me. They do however, have a very strong interest in all things about the United States. In the grocery store yesterday, I saw two guys who I suspected just might be American. They were wearing buttons that said “I did not vote for Bush.” Go figure!

You would be surprised to know I have been dragged into at least 100 sports clothing stores. For what you should ask? Ah, the pursuit of the perfect women’s wind breaker. There are prevailing winds here you know. We did strike gold in an outdoor adventure store and are the proud owners of a very spiffy jacket from local outdoor provider Snowgum. To celebrate this long sought after garment, we had an upscale dinner at the Harbourside Seafood Grill on the upper floor of the Old Ferry Building on the wharf. It was fun watching the ferries come and go and enjoy a delightful fresh seafood dinner.

Quirky Living Note: Here in Auckland the cab companies seem to be a pretty independant bunch. As I walked along the cab stand this evening the names of the cab companies were Reliable, Alert, Urgent, and Green (it was a Toyota Hybrid).

Northland Here We Come

For our first “out of city” exploration, we decided to head north to what is called the State of Northland. This was to determine whether the white toy car will keep up with traffic, and whether Tom the driver can cope with left side driving at freeway speeds. The answer to both is yes, but the Mercedes and BMW folks want to pass no matter how fast you are going. The highway speed limit here is 100 kph (60 mph) but once off the 20 miles of freeway to the north it is hard to do that speed due to curves and hills. They have however done well with passing lanes and they warn you 4 or 5 kilometers ahead about them, hoping to discourage unwise passing. Once you cross over the Auckland Harbor Bridge and pass the suburbs, the country becomes very rural.

Interestingly, for a country surrounded by water, the highways do not really get close to the shoreline, except in a few fantastic places. If you have a particular beach destination in mind there are roads heading to such places, but you must then return to the main highways on the same road. The driver of this tour bus is unconstitutionally able to return from anywhere on the same road. And if you miss a nice scenic road, it just isn’t right to turn around! This just may cause some frustration with the gorgeous navigator sitting next to me. Oh, by the way, if you are not familiar with the right side driver position in the British influenced lands, it can cause some laughter until you get used to doing everything backwards. The first thing that can happen is one or the both of you trying to get into the car on the wrong side. Only once did I actually sit in the passenger seat before realizing there was no steering wheel. Because of all the controls being reversed, the turn signal is on the right side of the steering wheel, so when you want to signal, habit makes you click on the left side. Your mistake is obvious to the whole world as you have turned on your windshield wipers on a perfectly dry day.

Now I am no rookie to this goofy driving, having driven backasswards in England, Ireland, and South Africa. It just takes you a bit of time to break all those usual home driving habits. The car rental people must anticipate a few of these problems, as there is a very bright yellow and black sticker on the dashboard that says “KEEP TO THE LEFT.”

Our destination on this beautiful Sunday was the Bay of Islands, one of the “don’t miss” areas of the Northland area. We took the car ferry across to Russell which is a beautiful Victorian village situated on a peninsula jutting out into the bay. We wandered the village, had lunch and enjoyed the warm sunny afternoon. The north of the North Island is very green, amazing amount of unusual trees, and very rural with few towns. We wandered on back to Auckland on some pretty rural roads (that’s why I have such a good navigator) which crisscrossed the island. Road navigating can be a challenge because of few road signs and the unpronounceable Maori language names. Some of the towns and villages we passed through were named Orewa, Waiwera, Te Hana, Waipu, Whangarei, Paihia, Kaikohe, Pakotai, Dargaville (the only one that is easy), and Tokatuka. This is just a sampling of our language challenged day. It was fun, but a long 10 hour drive, safely traveling nearly 550 kilometers.

Quirky Living Note: When there is a sign the Kiwi’s are blunt about it. A large sign, of course on the left said: Drink Drive, Die in the Ditch.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Auckland - City of Sails

Girls in the Courthouse fountain

The Sky Tower

Dragon boats in the Viaduct Basin

Whenever we visit a new city we try to get our bearings early on. This is New Zealand’s largest city with 1.3 million people. The good news is that the downtown is very walkable and of a manageable size. It is a beautiful city with water all around. They tout having more boats per capita than any place in the world, and I believe it by seeing all the marinas. In order to learn about the things we need to visit, we usually find the city tour bus. For Auckland that means the Explorer Bus, and we spent our first full morning checking things out.

The bus is a hop-on, hope off variety so we took advantage of a few of the stops. It takes a large circle tour of the city starting with an overlook of Mission Bay, south of the downtown and viewing from Bastion Point. Next it goes by the City Rose Gardens and by Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral. Then up to the Auckland Museum, which we plan to visit later this week, and on to the Parnell Village neighborhood. This is a historic Victorian district with a lot of shops, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. We of course hopped off to check out the shopping opportunities and to have the ritual mid-morning Starbucks coffee mocha.

Back on the bus we headed for the University of Auckland, the Civic Theatre, Victoria Street and up to the Sky Tower. This is the visible land mark of the City, like the Space Needle is for Seattle (discounting Mount Rainier). However, in the adventurous spirit of the New Zealanders they permit Bungy jumping from the top and skywalking on the outside of the roof. I don’t think that is in the cards for the Warren’s, but we will go up for the view. Next we were on the bus to the Victoria Park Market, which has quirky shops and second hand sales.

We ended the circle and the bus at the America’s Cup Viaduct Harbor. This area, right down on the wharf area of downtown, was reclaimed and built of New Zealand’s defense of the America’s Cup Yacht sailing races. It is now a marina surrounded by very nice restaurants and bars. In order to keep the adventure nuts happy, on Saturday they were having dragon boat races. About 20-25 people get together for three months of practicing rowing, drinking beer, and wearing gaudy team t-shirts. Three boats race at a time and there are heat races all day. A great time is obviously had by all. Many of the rowers are shaped like they had a lot more beer than practice, both men and women.

During the afternoon we walked Queen Street which is the main upscale downtown shopping street, located just one block over from our apartment. We checked out the street fair in the park next to City Hall and crossed the downtown by returning on Albert Street, the street on which our apartment is located. For the evening we returned to the Viaduct Basin for dinner at Danny Doolan’s Irish Pub. Whether it was the dragon races or just Saturday night a loud and liquid night was being had by all.

Monday, February 18, 2008

What Is a Kiwi?

The Quay West - Our apartment high rise

Now the answer to that question will take about six weeks. I will look high and low for the answer. It was a pleasant 3 hour flight from Fiji to Auckland, New Zealand. Arriving in any foreign country always seems to be a little traumatic. For some reason we always seem to end up at the end of the immigration and customs lines, which always seems to raise both of our blood pressures. And I know you should never switch lines as the line you switch to will always end up slower. Maybe we should quit stopping at the restrooms when getting off a flight, and rush to the front of those lines. And you might know that our immigration guy is very friendly and wants to chat with everyone coming through.

Actually our time schedule was going well. But…why did the ATM machine reject one of our debit cards? Just part of the arrival trauma we have come to know and love. However, the helpful information lady told me how to use the pay phone for free (I had no change anyway) to call the rental car company for pickup. They arrived promptly and off to the Ace Rental Car Company. What? You have never heard of Ace? It is the largest independent car rental company in New Zealand. Your frugal traveler has selected the company because the cost for renting a car for 45 days is about half that of the Hertz-Avis-National crowd. You soon find out why it is half the price. Now the car does have 4 doors, an automatic transmission, and working air conditioning. It also has rust for goodness sake and does have a bit of trouble idling. But a compact Mitsubishi is entitled to a few quirks when it has 220,000 kilometers on the gauge. Oh well, it ran pretty good on the way into downtown Auckland and hardly got lost at all.

If you check out our itinerary posted earlier on the blog, you will see we are staying in a place called Apartments in Auckland. Our apartment is on the 8th floor of a combination apartment and hotel complex called the Quay (pronounced key) West. It is in a fantastic location, just a block from the waterfront in the heart of downtown. The apartment has a living room, dining room, master bedroom, laundry room, bathroom, kitchen and huge deck overlooking the Auckland Harbor Bridge and America’s Cup marina. I lucked out again!

Our first afternoon was spent walking the waterfront and being amazed at the size of the Cunard Lines Queen Victoria cruise ship, which was making its maiden visit to New Zealand. It is about three blocks from our apartment and wow is it large. Only keeps about 2000 people in decadent luxury. Next we headed for the nearest supermarket, FoodTown, and loaded up with essentials like pizza, beer, smoked salmon, cereal, bread, and soft drinks. We are now ready to settle in! We relaxed by staying home for our first evening with pizza and enjoying the sound of our very own washer and dryer catching up on a weeks travel.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Howard and the Landcruiser

Fiji Mountain One Room School The Mountains of Fiji above Nadi

Our second day in Fiji started early in the morning by meeting Howard, the eco tour guide. The good news was that we were the only travelers and we would be using a four wheel drive Toyota Land Cruiser, with air conditioning no less. Howard was a very large native Fijian who for several years had played professional rugby in Australia. He proved his toughness by showing that he was missing a couple of front teeth. As a former British Colony, and member of the Commonwealth, the two major sports in Fiji are rugby and cricket. The islands seem to export a large number of their biggest lads for membership on teams in New Zealand and Australia.

Off we went, with me pumping Howard with questions about the government, the courts, and his family. He is married and has a 7 year old son who is already starting to play rugby. We were not long on the road to Suva, when we turned off towards the mountains. The paved road soon ended and we were bouncing along the dirt and gravel road and dodging a lot of ruts. Recently Fiji had a cyclone cross Viti Levu Island bringing a lot of rain and wind. It has made quite a mess of the roads, both paved and dirt. We were headed for one of the tallest mountains in a range going north and south across the island. Because of the rainy season the country was lush and green. As we left the sugar cane farms we rose steadily actually getting into areas of pine forests and magnificent views back towards the bay and Nadi.

Our ultimate destination was to a small village high on the mountain, named (I think) Nosauri. There are very few road signs in Fiji and certainly no written sign for Nosauri. Upon arrival we visited a small rural one room school filled with 9 year old boys and Paul, their teacher. Paul is a former school mate of Howard, and is posted to this school by the government. The village has a total population of about 250. Most of the men of the village are farmers and the women stay home and care for the children, their homes, and the village. Mary Ann broke though the shyness of the kids by taking digital photos of them and then showing them the photos. She accidentally clicked back to a photo of the deep snow on Snoqualmie Pass in Washington, which was quite a hit.

Leaving the school we went into the village and had a tour by Charlotte, the daughter of the Chief. They have a relatively large Methodist Church in the center of the village, and which everyone attends. It is a very busy church, with services throughout the week, and three services on Sunday, starting at 5 a.m. Charlotte then joined us for a short drive to an artesian water falls where we had a tea break. We had our chance to go prancing under the falls, but we passed on the opportunity even though we had our swim suits along. We then headed down the mountain and back to the hotel. It was a good trip and showed us a lot about Fiji that we never otherwise would have experienced. We spent the afternoon resting up for the move to New Zealand and the important time to write and read.

Fiji Post reports just how it was said: In an article about a dispute over de-reserving native land (kind of like taking the reservation away from the American Indians) for the purpose of revitalizing the sugar cane industry the government critic said: “He added that it seems that interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, and his ‘mouthpiece’ interim Sugar Minister Mehendra Chaudhry, are doing what any typical ‘landless’ person will do and meddle with the land.”

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bula - Vinaka

The Rain Tree of Fiji

You can’t be in Fiji more than five minutes without discovering that every one is incredibly friendly and you must speak to everyone you pass by. The hotel van driver started us off by explaining the two Fiji words you can’t get along without. The first is bula, which is used for multiple purposes such as hello, welcome and the universal opening of all conversations. The second word is vinaka which is thank you. To place you in the world, the country of Fiji has about 300 islands (about 100 are populated) and is located about 3 hours northeast of New Zealand. The country is tropical and it is warm, humid, and we are visiting in the rainy season.

Fiji was a British Colony from the 19th century (Captain Cook era) and the main industry then, as now, is sugar cane. In 1970 Fiji became an independent country, but remains a part of the British Commonwealth. Most visitors (the other main industry) land at Nadi (pronounced Nandi) located on the east side of the largest island of Viti Levu. The capital of Fiji is Suva located on the south east side of the island. I was reading in the Fiji Times that the Brits and the Fiji government are having a slight dispute. In 2006 the military took over the elected civil government in a bloodless coup in order to try and clean up perceived corruption. It is now called an interim government and new elections are supposed to be conducted in 2009. Great Britain has not recognized the interim government and various talks are going on with the High Commissioner.

Upon our arrival we were whisked by van to our resort hotel called the Tanoa International. Amazingly we were into our room by 7:00 a.m. Our early arrivals around the world have not always been so successful. After a light breakfast to make up for a questionable breakfast sandwich on the plane, we set out to build a plan to maximize our two days in Fiji. We first hit the tour desk and scoped out a tour. There were so many choices that it was hard to come to a choice as we really only wanted a half day tour. Surprisingly Fiji has many high mountains so we selected a morning Highlands off road eco tour. Now that sounds like us, right?

Next we wanted to explore Nadi and get Mary Ann into her comfort zone with shopping, handicrafts and BUYING! They have a private taxi service at the hotel and Mohammed, the driver, immediately tried to talk us into various island taxi tours which could beat the price of the tour desk. This is always a bit of a concern and you wonder what you are getting into. We insisted we just wanted to go to downtown Nadi and he obligingly complied. He is a third generation Fiji Muslim Indian and explained that there are about 380,000 Indians out of 900,000 Fiji residents. About 80,000 of the Indians are Muslim and 300,000 are Hindu. There are Hindu temples and Muslim mosques all over the place. The Indians were brought to Fiji by the British as indentured servants or slaves to work the sugar cane.

One of the more fascinating trees here is called the rain tree. It is a tall spreading tree and is currently used for handicrafts called turned wood. It is very beautiful (and expensive), but we resisted the temptation to send a nice large carving back to Chelan. We mostly shopped for necessities (sun hat and flip-flops) and the hand-painted T-shirt. Mohammed picked us up a couple of hours later and took to the rich areas on Denarau Island. This is also the port area for Nadi where the tourist boats and cruise ships take people to the outer islands. They have seven resort hotels on the island, a fantastic looking golf course, and the port with a lot of shops and restaurants, including a brand new Hard Rock Café. This reminds me that we saw a very nice McDonalds but no Starbucks. We did walk through the five star Sheraton on the beach in order to view the American Hawaii-Florida standard. Our hotel is much more tropical and native, probably only a mere four star.

We finished our first day with swimming at our pool, drinking Fiji bitter beer, Tropical Daiquiris, and rum and coke. We surely had to experience Fiji happy hour. We had a delightful dinner in the open air restaurant and a long chat with a couple from Toronto. Then a great nights sleep, getting ready for trekking in the mountains.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Stopping Off In Los Angeles

Mary Ann at the Getty

The start to some of our trips to American Bar Association mid-year meetings, has sometimes been very difficult, due to Washington weather in February. Normally, because of snow and ice you can’t always guarantee flying out of Pangborn airport in Wenatchee. This year you could not even guarantee driving the passes due to the extraordinary snow and avalanches. On our departure date both passes were closed, but since were flying from Wenatchee because of going on to Fiji, New Zealand, and Tahiti after the meeting it was not a problem.. Everything worked great on the flight to Seattle and on to LA.

For whatever strange reason we rented a car at LAX just so we could abuse ourselves driving on the Los Angeles freeways. The Hertz people must have known that we needed to be seen as we were given a small Chevrolet two door that was the same color as a lemon drop. We sure never lost our car in a parking lot! For this meeting we were staying at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Century City. This hotel was built in the 1960’s by Westin as one of the first buildings in the conversion of the 20th Century Fox Studios over to Century City. As the former Westin, and we as holders of a Westin Credit Card, we had a grand opening deal for $25.00 per night. (we took advantage of this as we were young and broke, to include sleeping on Pismo Beach the night before). Our splurge was a great dinner and our first purchase of a very expensive bottle of wine. We weaved back to our beautiful room.

The Hyatt has completely renovated the hotel into a convention facility and is still very elegant and very expensive. We did enjoy it however. The highlight of this trip to LA was our visit to the Getty Center and new museum (as compared to the original Getty Villa). You expect when visiting world class museums to get thoroughly gouged financially, but not at the Getty! You do pay $8 for parking, and then take a tram to the top of the mountain where the museum, institute, and Getty Foundation are located. When arriving I kept expecting to go to a ticket booth to pay. I finally asked and was told that Getty said no one should ever have to pay to see his collections. My kind of guy!

The art is fantastic, but equally amazing is the architecture by Richard Meirer. The buildings, views, gardens, fountains, and general ambience is wonderful and not to be missed. Keeping in line with their “do not gouge” policy, even the food in the café was reasonably priced. This is a sure stop when visiting Los Angeles. And…don’t miss the two incredible Renoir’s, both of which we had never seen before.

Our plan for the trip to New Zealand was that I could either put Mary Ann in Business Class (she is getting a little cranky about the 15+ plus hour flights), or I could come up with something else. The “something else” was a two day stopover in Fiji, thus making it only an 11 hour flight (not really two plus days because of the date line). It was a totally at night flight on Air New Zealand which for a slight extra fee permits these island layovers. We arrived about 6 a.m. Fiji time after amazingly getting a good nights sleep. Then the Fiji adventures began!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Off to New Zealand!

It has been nearly a year since the exciting and interesting trip to San Miguel de Allende. If you want to reminisce or check out the great photos about those adventures, just scroll down. We are just about ready to launch our next extended trip, this time to New Zealand for six weeks. My ornery travel companion told me she did not want any more of those 18 hour flights from Hell, so this trip we are breaking up the flights with a stop going in Fiji and a stop returning in Tahiti. This was my not so subtle way of avoiding the exorbitant price of business class tickets. Our itinerary is posted below and we always enjoy hearing from you. We will have the lap top with us and have access to the internet most of time. You can also always post comments on the blog. I will start posting regularly about February 16.

New Zealand Itinerary & Information

Friday, February 8 – Fly to Los Angeles for the ABA mid-year meeting on Horizon Flight
2155 departing at 6:00 a.m., then Alaska Flight 574 departing at 8:00 a.m. and
arriving in LA at 10:36 a.m. Hertz Rental Car Reservation # D88432742F1 Staying at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, 2025 Avenue of the Stars, L.A. (310) 228-1234

Monday, February 11 – Leave LAX at 10:15 pm on Air New Zealand Flight 21

Wednesday, February 13 – Arrive in Nadi, Fiji at 5:55 am. Stay at Tanoa International Hotel,
Volualevu Road Nadi Airport (see )

Friday, February 15 – Depart Nadi for Auckland at 7:10 am on Air New Zealand Flight 21

Friday, February 15 – Arrive in Auckland at 11:15 am
Pick-up rental car from Cruisin NZ Cars. Call 0800 50 22 77 for transfer to depot

Friday, February 15 – Check into Quay West (Apartment 8th Floor B) at 8 Albert St, Auckland
Central (see )

Friday, February 22 – Depart Auckland

Saturday, February 23 – Drive North Island to Wellington

Sunday, February 24 – Arrive in Wellington and check into Atlas Level 4 apartment
(2 bedrooms) at Atlas House, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington City for 20 nights
(see )

Saturday, March 15 – Check out of Atlas House and drive to Christchurch on the South
Reservation on the Interislander from Wellington to Picton @ 10:35 a.m., check-in is at 9:35 a.m. Arrival in Picton at 1:35 p.m.

Saturday, March 15 – Check into LivingSpace Apartments Christchurch at 96 Litchfield
Street, Christchurch in a 1 bedroom Executive Suite for 11 nights
(see )

Wednesday, March 26 – Check out of LivingSpace and tour South and North Islands to
locations that we might not have visited and want to see
Reservation on Interislander from Picton to Wellington @ 1:15 p.m. Final Check-in at 12:15 p.m. Arrival in Wellington at 4:25 p.m.

Monday, March 31 – Depart Auckland at 2:05 pm on Air New Zealand flight 4082 operated by
Air Tahiti Nui (TN 102)

Sunday, March 30 – Arrive at 8:05 pm in Papeete, Tahiti. Staying at Radisson Plaza Resort
Tahiti, Lafayette Beach (see:

Wednesday, April 2 – Depart at 10:00 pm on Air New Zealand flight 4092 operated by Air
Tahiti Nui (TN 12)

Thursday, April 3 – Arrive at LAX at 9:15 am. Staying at La Quinta Inn & Suites LAX, 5249 West Century Blvd, phone # (310) 645-2200

Friday, April 4 – Depart LAX on Alaska Flight 455 at 10:30 a.m. arriving SeaTac at 1:06 p.m.,
then Horizon Flight 2084 departing at 3:20 p.m. and arriving at Pangborn at 4:05 p.m.